Loaded with a bevy of strong-minded characters, At the Table pits lifelong friends against each other in the wake of core differences or political beliefs. At any given point in the show, expect commentary on such issues as race, gender equality or identity, abortion, legal use of marijuana, classism, or remarks on a myriad of other topics which—almost as a prerequisite—spark debate. In fact, little actually happens in terms of a plot except for the falling out of a few of the friends to make way for new characters in the second act.
As true as possible to the term, At the Table is an ensemble-based production. Almost all the roles are equal in size, and the script is designed so as to give every character their own platform on which to stand. Rachel Christopher (Lauren) plays an integral part in the play, and her character is attached to many of the major threads which run throughout the script. Craig Wesley Divino and Aaron Rossini, co-artistic directors of Fault Line Theatre, serve up strong performances respectively as Stuart and Nate, two average guys with a piece of mind. Stuart in particular likes to “rattle the cage,” constantly antagonizing the other subjects and provoking even more heated debate. Claire Karpen as Chris, with no fear of her own opinions, is a strong-minded woman who proves a worthy challenge for Stuart. The most volatile member of the group by far is Elliot (Jimmy King). In what is clearly an emotionally challenging role, King is persistent and engaged, though the performance at times felt one-dimensional.
Written and directed by Perlman, At the Table is a successful production with a few minor flaws. The nuances of the text are clearly articulated, the acting is mostly solid, and the staging is seamless and makes excellent use of the space. Performed “in the round,” the set design by Tristan Jeffers is clean and effective, and as is sometimes the case in this style of theatre, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Considering that the play only takes place in one location, the lighting design by John Eckert, while maybe not necessarily groundbreaking, serves its purpose. Set in the present, the contemporary garb the actors are outfitted in by Izzy Fields is colorful and expressive. The costumes are complimentary to the different personalities to be found on stage.
This all being said, though it is thought provoking to entertain the many intertwined themes of the play, the format is nearly structured to a fault. While the theater exists, in large part, to express an opinion on the current times by observation, the effort which was made to include such a wide range of socio-political issues unfortunately felt cumbersome. Though heavy in dialogue and lacking in conflict, At the Table is an intimate and accurate reflection of the times at hand and is worthwhile food for thought.
At the Table (through July 19 2015)
Fault Line Theatre
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, at Dominick Street, one block south of Spring, in Manhattan
Running time: two hours including one intermission